Reviews

Sony Smartband 2 Activity Tracker – User Review | GadFit

September 27, 2015

When I reviewed the Sony Smartband SWR10 in 2014, I gave it high marks given the potential it had. Alas, the concept of lifelogging was new to the market and the laboured release of accessories effectively killed off what might have been a promising start for the Smartband series. Perhaps it was also due to the fact that besides the Smartbands, Sony was also peddling Smart Watches aggressively with another SmartTalk band concurrently released on the side. A year on, Sony’s Smartband series is seeing a rejuvenation in the form of the Sony Smartband 2 SWR12. What’s most distinct is the addition of an optical heart rate sensor that is supposedly powerful enough to record heart rate variability readings. I had the band for a week and here’s what I have to say. sony smartband 2 packaged

IN SHORT

Pros:

  • Tracks steps, distance travelled, sleep, runs, walks.
  • Measures heart rate and heart rate variability
  • Displays body stress and recovery
  • Lifelogging on Android devices only
  • IP68 rated
  • 2 days battery life, up to 5 days in “Stamina mode”
  • Vibration enabled for smart alarms and notifications
  • Customisable straps
  • Remote for media
  • Out of range alert
  • Compatible with Google Fit and Apple Health

Cons:

  • Lack of display
  • No dedicated heart activity/ exercise records
  • Does not transmit real time HR readings to 3rd party apps

If you would like the details and pictures, read on!

LOOK AND FEEL

sony smartband 2 -coreLike its predecessor, the Sony Smartband 2 is also a removable activity tracker core that begs to be customised. A single button controls all the workings of the Smartband 2. It looks almost identical to the original Sony Smartband Core SWR10

The back of the Smartband 2 houses the optical sensors that will take passive heart rate readings throughout the day. Heart rate reading ceases once the Smartband 2 is not worn. There’s also an exercise mode or heart activity mode which I’ll come to later.sony smartband 2 -LED-lightsThree LEDs on the side serves to indication the mode which the Smartband 2 core is in. Depending on the mode, the LEDs will flash blue, orange, red, white or green when the button is depressed.

The tracker unit is NFC and Bluetooth enabled. It is also IP68 rated so you shouldn’t fear bringing the Smartband 2 for a swim.sony smartband 2 -mini-USB-charging-portThe charging port is of micro-usb make and battery life is advertised as 2 days with normal usage. That’s about right during this review. I was able to go 2 days with 2 nights worth of sleep tracking and an exercise tracking session of about 1 hour. This is in addition to the alarms, smart notifications and “away from phone” vibration alerts I received.sony smartband 2 -viewsThe strap wears like a watch but it seems the people at Sony have gone ahead of themselves by including a contraption that is cumbersome to use especially when minor adjustments are needed. sony smartband 2 -on-handAccording to Sony, the Smartband 2 should be worn tight but comfortable with two fingers width from the wrist bone. Now tight and comfortable are two words that don’t go well together. Wearing the SmartBand 2 properly would ensure more accurate heart rate readings at the expense of comfort. I’m suspecting most people would prefer a loose fit where the fitness tracker band can slide down to the wrist bone.

Also, there are no ventilation holes other than fitting holes so I’m unsure how uncomfortable it’ll get when the band is worn for long durations. I usually remove the Smartband 2 before shower and clean the tracker unit and strap on a daily basis. It’s a habit I’ve developed after trying on so many activity trackers. 

FUNCTIONS AND DATA PRESENTATION

The full review was done on a Nexus 5 running stock Android 5.1.1 and an iPhone 5S running iOS 9.  There are 2 mobile apps to be installed for Android users; the Smartband 2 mobile app and the Sony Lifelog app. iOS users need only install the Smartband 2 mobile app.

I was disappointed with the iOS experience.  The mobile app was substandard and muted the full prowess of the Sony Smartband 2. This can all be attributed to the lack of the Lifelog app on the iOS platform.

However, the Sony Smartband 2 becomes a different device when connected to the Android platform. It worked the way it was supposed to and data was beautifully presented. My advice is if you’re on the iOS platform, give this Smartband 2 a miss for now.

For this review, the all the screen grabs will be from an Android perspective.

Pulse and stress measurement

heart-rate-normal-vs-heart-activityThe Sony Smartband 2 measures both heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV). There are essentially 2 modes only; normal and heart activity tracking mode. In normal mode, the SmartBand 2 measures the user’s pulse around six time an hour. Those readings are then charted throughout the day as indicated in the screen grab above.

Strangely Sony has decided that there isn’t a need for a seperate section to house all the tracked heart activities. The tracked heart activity, or exercise sessions, is combined with the entire day’s readings so you’ll have to comb through data to sift out when the workout was. There are no options to view all the tracked heart activities at the moment.

Heart activity mode allows the Smartband 2 to take more regular readings. I was unable to ascertain the number of times pulse was measured but I’d say it’s about once per minute based on the number of points charted on the both Android and Apple devices. If you’re an athlete, you’d lament the limitations of once per minute HR readings and miss the HR peaks and dips usually observed during a workout. As a regular Joe who isn’t too particular about second by second readings, it might just be enough.Sony-Smartband-2-heart-rate-comparisoinI ran the Sony Smartband 2 in heart activity mode concurrently with my trusty chest worn Polar H7 Bluetooth Smart heart rate monitor and this is the side by side. Like I said, it might suffice for some. Especially those who relish the thought of having an all-in-one device.Smartband-2-pulse-readingsI have to stress that the HR display on the connected smartphone is continuous and real time but the mobile app appear to record HR only once per minute during heart activity tracking. This is based on what I experienced and observed on both Android and iOS devices.  As to why this is so, I’ve dropped Sony an email and this is the reply I received from them verbatim:

Thank you for contacting the Sony Xperia support centre.

With regards to your query about the Smartband 2, please be advised that it can calculate the number of times the heart beats each minute and provide an estimate of your heart rate.

Even under ideal conditions, the SmartBand 2 may not be able to get a reliable heart rate reading every time for each individual. And for a small percentage of users, various factors may make it impossible to get any heart rate reading at all. Perform the following steps if you want to improve the reading from the heart rate sensor:

• Make sure that you wear your SmartBand 2 snugly, but comfortably on your wrist. If it does not stay in place on your wrist and the heart rate sensor fails to get a good reading, tighten the wristband.

• You may need to clean the SmartBand 2, especially the heart rate sensor, after exercising or heavy sweating.

So there you go. The key word is really estimate.Heart-rate-and-stress-smartband-2Sony has also provided a stress and recovery (HRV) chart. The analysis is powered First Beat, one of the leading provider of physiological analytics for sports, fitness and wellbeing. The same company also provides HR analysis for selected Samsung, Suunto, Garmin, PulseOn and Bosch fitness products.  Stress and recovery readings in activity trackers isn’t new and have been seen in Wellograph and PulseOn. Pulse-stress-description-smartband-2Depending on the measure HR and HRV, the SmartBand 2 offers some indication of how much stress the body is under and also recovery percentage. As per most consumer fitness devices, Sony has plastered the disclaimer everywhere that the SmartBand 2 is not a medical device and cannot be used as a medical diagnostic tool.

By the end of the review, I still hadn’t fully grasped the concept of stress and recovery. For example there were days when the readings would indicate that I’m only 30% recovered. That sounds like something I should take note of but the truth is I feel absolutely great. While Sony did provide a lengthy explanation about the concept of stress and recovery, it did not go into the specifics of how to interpret the readings.

Activity Tracking

stesp-sleep-walk-on-main-smartband-2-appThe Sony Smartband 2 is also a 24/7 activity tracker that tracks stats such as steps, sleep and distance covered. Every single screen tab advises the user to “view history in Lifelog”. That’s when the user can get a overview and more details compared to just the paltry information in the Smartband 2 app.Pulse-and-run-smartband-2There are 5 main aspects of activity tracking and goals can be set for each of the stats with the exception of heart rate readings.

  • Hours slept
  • Heart rate
  • Step count
  • Walking
  • Running

steps-walk-caloriessleep-and-transportsThe stats are displayed on the Smartband 2 app which is then uploaded and synced to the Lifelog app. Why such hassle you might ask. Well there are those who are not keen to use Lifelog so there’s no need for them to download that app though they’d be missing out on a lot of data.

Lifelog app

Smartband-2-lifelogBuilding on the foundation of the original SmartBand, the interface is similar and still includes a “Play” icon where the user can view the entire day played like a movie.

Since most of us are on the smartphone devices or the web almost he entire day, imagine having your whole life documented from that perspective. Put simply, if you used your mobile device for a particular function, that function will most likely be recorded in Sony’s Lifelog app. From the duration spent browsing the web, time spent on transport, the photos taken at a particular time, calls made and so on. I was even able to see my travel route for day!

I found the concept of lifelogging intriguing. The present pace of life is so fast I can’t even recall what took place the previous week, save for the really big events. With the lifelog app, I was able to get a sense of what happened on a particular time and day. Perhaps a photo in the rain near the Botanic Gardens.

Would I require this much documentation of my life? I don’t know. It might feel like an invasion of privacy for some yet others might appreciate this automatic life logging. You can browse by day, week, month and even year. That’s how much data is collected and presented. You can choose not to download Lifelog or disable the level of access.smartband-2-insight-cardsWith all the collected data, it should come as no surprise that Sony will evntually analyse the tracked stats and provide “Insights” about your data. For me, I only received one insight over the course of the week and it was an information snippet telling me I had a good sleep on a particular night. I would assume with regular use of the Smartband 2, we should be able to see more variations.

ANYTHING ELSE?

smart-notifications-smartband-2

Smart notifications

On Android devices, I was able to choose which app would trigger the smart notifications in the form of vibrations. This option was not available on iOS devices.

Alarm

The user can also set alarms and smart alarms; the type that supposedly wakes you up at the lightest point of your sleep during the sleep cycle.

Out of range alert.

Once I went out of range of my connected smartphone device, the SmartBand 2 would buzz 3 times. Presumably to remind this forgetful owner that something’s amiss when it was a short trip to the toilet. I promptly switched off this function.

Do not disturb

The SmartBand 2 can also be set to go silent between a certain time of the day.

Remote control for music

At present the Sony SmartBand 2 can only be used as a remote for the music player on the connected smartphone device. May a handy feature during a run when it’s inconvenient to try and control music. Volume control is out of the picture though.

Stamina mode

Battery life is about 2 days as indicated by Sony. There’s an additional Stamina mode which can extend the battery life to about 5 days at the expense of disabling background pulse and stress logging.

Google Fit and Apple Health

The Sony SmartBand 2 is compatible with both Google Fit and Apple Health so the heart rate will be recorded depending on which device you’re using.



SONY SMARTBAND 2 IN A NUTSHELL

I thought the most prominent feature of the Sony SmartBand 2 is also its achilles heels. Sony has placed a powerful optical sensor in the SmartBand 2 without considering how the user is going to view that data in real time. The heart rate at at a particular point in time is only viewable on the display of the connected smartphone device.

In all honesty, I thought the Sony SmartBand 2 could’ve been great with a few tweaks. The LED lights could serve to differentiate heart rate zones. The lack of a dedicated exercise tracking or heart activity records is baffling. That effectively meant I can’t access the number, type and duration of workouts. Yet this could be fixed with software updates.

The issue of wearing the SmartBand 2 tightly also didn’t go down too well for me. It just wasn’t as comfortable as I expected. Your experience might vary since I tend to spend at least half the day on the laptop and the SmartBand 2 got in the way of work.

Ever since the original SmartBand, I’ve always found the idea of lifelogging an interesting one and the SmartBand 2 has improved on that experience with the inclusion of the “Insights” cards. There are a few things I really like about the Smartband 2 but the muted heart rate measuring capabilities, lack of display and dedicated heart activity records coupled with a premium price tag just didn’t do it for me. 

Thanks for reading!

1 Comment

  • Reply Alex December 23, 2015 at 4:10 am

    Looking a the documentation it seems in heart activity mode the HR is logged every 10 seconds.

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